November 8, 2015 / 4:58 PM / 2 years ago

Two Serbian embassy staff seized in Libyan 'ambush'

BELGRADE/TRIPOLI (Reuters) - Two Serbian embassy staff members were abducted in Libya on Sunday when their diplomatic convoy, including the ambassador, came under fire in the coastal city of Sabratha.

Serbia’s foreign ministry named the kidnapped pair as Sladjana Stankovic, a female communications officer, and Jovica Stepic, a male driver.

Serbian state TV said, citing sources, ‎that Ambassador Oliver Potezica was in the motorcade but was uninjured. It said Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic had spoken with Libyan officials and quoted him as saying he “expects a positive outcome within the next 48 hours.”

A Libyan security source confirmed the ambassador’s escape and said the vehicle carrying the two kidnapped staff was stopped by gunmen in two cars.

Four years after the overthrow of veteran leader Muammar Gaddafi, Libya is in turmoil, split between two rival governments and the armed factions who back them. Parts of the north African country are under the sway of militants, criminal gangs and tribal fighters.

Diplomats and foreign nationals have been targeted in the past for kidnapping, mostly for ransom or to demand the release of Libyan fighters being held by overseas governments. Islamist militants have also targeted foreigners.

Serbian diplomats in Libya were not immediately reachable for comment. A Serbian government official in Belgrade, who asked not to be named, said: “It appears it was an ambush, a shooting.”

The Serbian foreign ministry said it was making “utmost efforts to gather information and secure the safe return of our citizens”.

Most western diplomats and other foreign nationals have left Tripoli after an armed faction called Libya Dawn took over the capital last year, installing a new self-declared government and reinstating the old parliament.

Since then, Libya’s internationally recognized government and elected parliament has operated out of the east of the country, backed by a loose coalition of armed factions. Serbia has diplomatic relations with this government, based in Tobruk.

Sabratha, just west of Tripoli, is along a coast road where several armed factions operate, mostly allied with their local towns or regions. It was not clear what the Serbian convoy was doing in the area.

Writing by Patrick Markey; Editing by Mark Trevelyan

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